One year has made a world of difference in the expectations of the Azusa Pacific University football team.
At the start of last season, in the aftermath of a 2-8 season in 1987, the Cougars were merely aiming for respectability.
"Last year we thought that 5-5 would be good," Coach Jim Milhon said. "We just wanted to erase the previous season from our minds."
Azusa Pacific wound up with a 7-1 record and the No. 19 ranking in Division II of the National Assn. of Intercollegiate Athletics.
With 15 starters returning, the Cougars are pointing toward a loftier goal this season--their first berth in the NAIA playoffs. Azusa Pacific is ranked 22nd in the preseason NAIA Division II poll.
There is cause for excitement in Azusa, considering that the team has its entire backfield from last year. The leader is quarterback Brian Hunt, who passed for 915 yards and eight touchdowns last season, and his backfield mates are fullback Tommy Daniel and tailback James Brewer. Also back are slotback Brent Hamm and tight end Craig Panell, 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds.
The defense is built around an excellent linebacker corps led by senior Jeff Gustin, the team's leading tackler the last three seasons. The Cougars have an outstanding secondary, including cornerbacks Mario Riveros and Mark Dunn.
Azusa Pacific, an independent, is the only College Division team from the Southland ranked. Among other schools, Occidental, the traditional power in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, is considered among the top teams in the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s, Division III, and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo may be the Southland's best team in the Division II Western Football Conference.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo--It may be wishful thinking to expect the Mustangs to challenge for the title with Division II powers Portland State and Cal State Sacramento in the same conference.
Still, with 14 starters returning from a team that was 5-4-1 a year ago, the Mustangs could at least finish near the top of the conference race.
The Mustangs appear strong on offensive, particularly wide receiver and running back. The top receivers are Terry Cole, who had 32 receptions for 737 yards and six touchdowns last season, and Rick Lineweaver, the best running backs, Todd Henderson and Cornell Williams. An experienced offensive line includes all-conference tackle Dan Eavenson.
A more difficult task for San Luis Obispo will be rebuilding a defense that was ranked No. 1 in Division II against the rush last year. Among the returning players are lineman Steve Habermehl, linebackers Gary Gatiss and Jim Joseph and safety David Graves.
Cal State Northridge--Coach Bob Burt has guided the Matadors to an unprecedented three consecutive winning seasons in his first three years. He has a 21-12 record after Northridge finished 6-5 last season.
Northridge could make it four in a row this year, although it will not be easy with a challenging schedule that starts with games against Division I opponents Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Long Beach, State and and includes three other teams ranked in the preseason Division II top 10.
A lot will probably depend on the development of Northridge's offense, which will revolve center around the talents of junior running back Albert Fann and junior quarterback Sherdrick Bonner. Fann rushed for 973 yards and accounted for 1,902 all-purpose yards as a sophomore and is considered a Division II All-American candidate.
The Matadors also have a big offensive line that is led by Jim Matthews, 6-4 and 275, and Barry Voorhees, 6-5 and 280. The defense, which figures to be one of the team's strengths, will include lineman Mike Meehan, 6-5 and 255, linebacker Sean O'Brien and all-conference safety Willie James.
Cal Lutheran--It is transitional season for the Kingsmen, who will compete as an associate member of the Division II WFC this season and expect to move into the Division III SCIAC within two years. Cal Lutheran also has announced that this will be the last season for Bob Shoup, the longtime coach.
The conference change should benefit the football team, which will play only three conference opponents and will not have to face the likes of Portland State, Sacramento and San Luis Obispo this season.
That should also translate into an improved record for the Kingsmen, who slumped to 2-8 last season. Just how much improvement there is may hinge on the development of an inexperienced backfield led by quarterback Tim Zeddies and an untested secondary.
The Kingsmen do have a big, strong offensive line that features Ken Whitney, a 6-4, 270-pound guard who bench presses 615 pounds, and center Pat Wolcott, 6-1 and 250. The defense is also talented up front with nose tackle Rich Toll, end Carl Friedemann and linebackers Ken Steward and Mike Mollinado.
Occidental--With two consecutive back-to-back championships and six titles in the last seven years, there is little question that Occidental has been the SCIAC's preeminent team of the 1980s.
With 15 starters returning from a team that finished 8-1, the biggest question is probably whether or not the Tigers can qualify for the NCAA Division III playoffs in November.
Occidental, which has appeared in the NCAA playoffs three times, will rely on a defense that returns has nine returning starters, among them including all-conference selections David Hodges and Pete Tucker (6-5, 230) at linebacker and Brady Dargan at defensive end. The Tigers also have return their starting secondary back, of last season including cornerback Ron Cunningham and safety Craig Hartley.
On offense, Occidental will be led by all-conference quarterback Tony Werbelow, wide receiver Rob Leinbach and running back Kevin Vegas.
Werbelow was fourth in Division III in passing efficiency as a junior, completing 100 of 145 passes for 1,096 yards with seven touchdowns and only two interceptions, and Leinbach caught 31 passes.
Although Occidental looms as the SCIAC favorite, it is expecting a challenge from Redlands and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
Redlands--After posting a 6-3 record in Mike Maynard's first season as coach, Redlands may have the best chance of unseating Occidental. With 16 starters and 30 lettermen returning, the Bulldogs do not lack talent or depth.
Redlands should be especially strong in its offensive line with all five starters returning, including All-SCIAC performers Robert Lagsdin and Chris Garcia. The Bulldogs also expect to have a good passing attack with the return of quarterback Robert Lough, wide receiver Fernando Guana and tight end Carl Schroeder.
The strength of the defense could be the secondary, which has returning starters Pat McLeod, Mario Talavera and Dennis Kroll. The Bulldogs are also experienced at linebacker with All-SCIAC selections Doug Bos and John Thompson both back.
Claremont-Mudd-Scripps--The team, 3-6 last year, could be in contention with the return of 16 starters--including eight all-conference picks.
The offense revolves around running back Reed Pangborn, who rushed for 812 yards as a sophomore and led the SCIAC, and quarterback Mike Pembroke, who passed for 860 yards and ran for 330 last season. Two other top players are wide receiver Darin Carlsen and lineman Peter Thum.
Claremont is led on defense by lineman Rory Wilson, the team's leading tackler last year, linebacker Tom Walden and defensive back Mike McCorkle.
Whittier--Improvement is also in store for the Poets, who have 17 starters and 39 lettermen back from a 3-6 team that was third in the SCIAC.
Whittier is led by quarterback Mike Haney and running back Gaylan Sweet. Haney passed for 1,343 yards and 10 touchdowns last season and Sweet rushed for 618 yards and caught 31 passes for 276 yards.
Haney also has two other solid receivers in Ian Yates and Russell Goo and a top offensive line led by Dirk Gerson. The defense is headed by tackle Doi Johnson, 5-9 and 270.
La Verne--With 13 starters and 35 lettermen back from a 4-5 team, plus longtime Coach Roland Ortmayer--182-192-6 in 43 seasons--La Verne cannot be overlooked.
La Verne's forte is its passing attack, which returns quarterback Mark Brown and wide receiver Anthony Grove and tight end John Kusleika. Brown threw for 1,717 yards and eight touchdowns last season, Grove caught 37 passes for 562 yards and five touchdowns and Kusleika had 25 receptions for 438 yards.
Pomona-Pitzer--Although the Sagehens believe they have improved from last season, when finishing 0-8, they are in for another rough season.
They have an excellent quarterback in senior Greg Silver, who had 722 yards in total offense last season. Three other leaders are offensive lineman Chris McReynolds, safety Robbie Johnson and linebacker Dan Laster. The offense has added touted freshman running back Chris Smith.
UC Santa Barbara--The Gauchos will once again compete as an NCAA Division III independent, although seven of its 10 opponents are Division II teams. UCSB has a new coach, Rick Candaele, and 16 starters back from last year's 6-4 team.
The success of the Gauchos could depend on their defense led by linebackers Vincent Moss and Fred Freking and tackle Charles Brown.
Santa Barbara's offense is directed by quarterback Mike Curtius.